We left Amazonas Lodge this morning. Even though the weather was much better than when we arrived, the two-hour boat trip down river and our van transport back to Puerto Maldonado seemed even longer than the trip to the lodge a few days ago. Plus this time I realized that some of the primitive open air, one-room buildings on dirt lots we passed in route to the river were not abandoned huts but are actual homes to families. In a land where there are so many natural resources and wealth, the vast poverty in the countryside is sickening. I could not bring myself to even take photos. I am reminded once again, that many of a person's circumstances in life have more to do with when and where he is born than almost anything else. Life is not fair.
Our flight to Cusco was short but even from the cabin of the plane, the day was beautiful. We captured some pretty good shots from the air--from the lowlands of the Amazon jungle as we left the area and to the Andes Mountains as we approached Cusco and the highlands. Cusco is over two miles above sea level and the effect is felt immediately. The air outside was clear, cool (at last!!!) and quite thin.
Yesterday marked the beginning of Carnival. We were met in the Cusco town square with crowds, people in costume, parades, music and fireworks. This will go on for the rest of our time in South America. We learned that Cusco's primary industry is tourism. That makes sense since it is the jumping-off point for Machu Picchu - shops and street vendors catering to the tourists are everywhere. A youngster peddling something was at my elbow every time I turned around.
Our hotel is in the center of town and is deceptively gorgeous - simple on the outside and wonderful inside. The staff met us with cups of tea made from the cacoa leaf - said to help with altitude adjustment. We settled in and went for a late lunch to a restaurant, Don Tomas, as recommended by the guide who met us at the airport. We always like to try authentic local cuisine; it's an important part of the experience. We have heard that Peruvian food is sometimes exotic and had been told about some of the dishes. Today I think we surprised even ourselves and ordered salad and … oh, I'm almost afraid to say . . . whole deep fried guinea pig! The food was fantastic! I'm still a little in shock that we actually tried it and liked it.
We will tuck it in early tonight. We are tired. We are still trying to become accustomed to the high altitude and we cannot wait to get our showers. First thing tomorrow . . . we will send out a ton of dirty, I mean, dirty laundry. We cannot wait to get the rainforest sweat and mud washed out of our clothes!